Growing Cannabis in Wine Country: The Shone Farm Project

In 2019, the Santa Rosa Junior College initiated a hemp cultivation project at Shone Farm to specifically identify the best agronomic practices for cultivating hemp and understand the potential terpene drift between hemp and wine grape vines.

This session, led by Dr. George Sellu, Ph.D., addresses these questions, providing an overview of the Shone Farm project and sharing his observations and insights on the agricultural impact of hemp farming in wine country.​​​​​​​

– Was there a notable impact on the grapes?​​​​​​?
– Can these two crops co-exist?​​​​​​​
– What does the future look like with regard to cannabis and vineyards in close proximity and what type of regulations can we expect?​​​​​​​

“Since launching Wine and Weed Symposium,” WIN President and CEO George Christie says, “I’m often asked a question I couldn’t find anyone to answer until I met Dr. George Sellu. ‘Will hemp terpenes negatively influence grapes if grown too close to a vineyard?'”

“A lot of people are concerned about whether hemp will taint wine grapes,” agrees Sellu, Santa Rosa Junior College’s (SRJC) Agribusiness Program Coordinator/Instructor, “but I couldn’t find any research in the US to support that concern.” So, he implemented a study to measure drift from hemp acreage into vineyards at SRJC’s Shone Farm. The conclusion: no hemp terpenes were detected on wine grapes or in wine made from those grapes, either by instruments or a wine sensory panel. Drift from spraying vineyards has a higher chance of negatively impacting hemp since far fewer products are approved for hemp than for grapes. Christie points out that this could open grape growers to liability.

Sellu suspects that some may not understand the plant terpenes responsible for aromas and flavors. Two examples, linalool in lavender and pinene in raspberries, carrots and pine trees, are both in hemp and grapes. “If you find pinene in wine grapes,” he says, “you wouldn’t blame someone growing carrots nearby.”

Christie noted that San Luis Obispo banned hemp in Edna Valley, citing grape taint and crime concerns. “There’s not enough THC in hemp to get high,” Sellu responds. “Why would anyone steal it? Colorado planted thousands of hemp acres and have yet to see any theft. If farmers can’t make money from their acreage, they’re going to move away. You might get $30 an acre for corn or wheat, and $1000 an acre with hemp – that’s the difference between making money and losing your farm.”

Sellu promises to expand his research to other wine regions. Then he offers some advice. “Plant hemp for fiber instead of CBD oil. CBD oil prices fell 50% last year because too many acres were planted. Demand for CBD will fade, while fiber will be here for a long time. Businesses are switching from products like Styrofoam to hemp fiber, which is more sustainable. Georgia Pacific uses it to make Brawny paper towels and Levi’s and Patagonia for pants. Others use it for flooring, car parts or sails. Even though you’ll earn less per acre than for CBD, fiber is the longer-term play.”

Follow-Up Q&A From the Live Broadcast Chat, and Dr. Sellu’s Powerpoint Presentation (PDF) can be found here: https://wineindustryadvisor.com/2020/07/01/growing-cannabis-in-wine-country-the-shone-farm-project

About the Presenter:

Dr. George Sellu, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Instructor, Agribusiness / Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC)

George Sellu joined the SRJC Agriculture and Natural Resources faculty in Fall 2013. George received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Environmental Science with an emphasis in Soil Science from the University of Sierra Leone and a MS and PhD in Agricultural Science/Education from the University of California, Davis. George has 10 years of experience teaching high school agriculture courses in California. In addition to high school teaching, George taught at Woodland Community College for three years prior joining SRJC faculty. George’s vision is to guide students develop effective business skills that address community and industry needs.

In addition to teaching, George is very interested in international agricultural development and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, he consults for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are funded by the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

He is an active member of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association (CATA), American Association of Agricultural Educators (AAAE) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Original Broadcast Date: June 24, 2020

Presenter: Dr. George Sellu, Ph.D., Program Coordinator, Instructor, Agribusiness / Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC)
Produced by: Wine Industry Network


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